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ON BOCUSE D’OR IN AMERICA: SETTING LASTING EXPECTATIONS
Tom Allan, Paul Bocuse, Daniel Boulud, and James Kent at the Bocuse d’Or Europe selections in Geneva, June 2010.
I am very proud to be French, and especially proud to be from Lyon—where in 1987, Paul Bocuse started the Bocuse d’Or, the international culinary competition among the world’s greatest chefs. I have such enormous respect for Paul. Through the Bocuse d’Or, he has succeeded in taking my native city, one that is near and dear to the culinary hearts of all French people, and sharing it with the world. The funny thing is, up until three years ago, no one in the United States paid much attention to the competition. That’s when Paul asked me to be the President d’Honneur for the Bocuse d’Or in Lyon. It means that I have a seat next to him in the organization—my job is to represent the body of judges that choose a winner from among 24 countries.
I had another reason for accepting a key role in the Bocuse d’Or. When Gavin Kaysen—a Bocuse d’Or candidate four years ago who was then a chef at El Bizcocho in San Diego— talked with me about his experience, I was struck by how little support was available to him. He showed me his preparations
and posters, demonstrated his dishes, and explained his goals. He was completely on his own, with no financial support or advisory group to guide him—and all the while, he continued to maintain his job as executive chef. Shortly after becoming President d’Honneur, I decided to create an advisory board with Thomas Keller and Paul’s son, Jerome Bocuse—and that was the beginning of the Bocuse d’Or USA Foundation. From that point on, I knew we could begin to make a statement about American chefs and their cuisine on the world stage.
The first thing we did was make the Bocuse d’Or USA a nonprofit organization to establish a lasting structure, a system that would nurture and supervise young talent for a long time to come. Then, to create awareness of the Bocuse D’Or here and build that support system, we created the Culinary Council of chefs nationwide. If you are looking for a great young American chef, where are you most likely to find him or her? The answer is obvious: from the top chefs across the country who continually bring these young chefs through their kitchens. Top chefs are the eyes and ears on the ground. Another goal of the organization is to develop a sense of national pride on the world’s culinary stage. I love the image of sitting in the bleachers in Lyon and seeing Team USA step up to the winner’s podium. How spectacular!
One of our largest and most important efforts as an organization is our scholarship program. We take enormous pride in developing talent, and we’ve launched a made-tomeasure program to do just that. Our candidates for the Bocuse d‘Or have the opportunity to learn from France’s top chefs by working in their restaurants, compliments of our scholarship program. These awards allow us to provide access to experiences that emerging chefs might never have on their own.
My goal is to build a Bocuse d’Or USA Foundation that becomes increasingly more organized and competitive—to show the world that in America, there are supremely talented chefs preparing remarkable cuisine. Through our efforts, we will no doubt get closer and closer to the gold!
And Other Urgent Questions
by Bill Buford
In a dining establishment in Ly on, you can eat pig fat fried in pig fat, a pig’s brain dressed in vinegar, a salad made with pig lard, a chicken boiled in a pig’s bladder, a pig’s digestive tract filled up like a custard with pig’s blood, cold lentils with cold nuggets of a pig’s belly, and a piggy intestine stuffed to bursting with a thick handful of piggy intestines—imagine an old-fashioned telephone cable, packed to bursting with multicolored telephone wires, split open incomprehensibly by a repairman who somehow knows where everything goes.
For these and other reasons, Lyon, for the past 76 years, has been known as the gastronomical capital of both France and the world.
The world is a big place. Two years ago, I persuaded my wife, Jessica Green, and our three-year-old twin toddlers to leave New York City with me and move to Lyon to see what was so good about the good food there. We arrived just as the city became very cold and a couple months before the Bocuse d’Or. We intended to stay six months. To our astonishment, we are still here. And we have no plans to leave.
These are some of our discoveries.
Best Lyonnais meal: Lunch. Small price, big bang: simple, never fancy, like the food you wish your mother had cooked, and so cheap that, even with wine—even with quite a lot of wine, even with a ridiculous amount of wine—you will stare at l’addition convinced that someone has made a mistake. (After a brief internal debate, you will slink off like a shoplifter.) Best version? Anywhere; everywhere. There will be only one expensive item: the espresso, which is unfortunate because it will taste like mud.
Worst Lyonnais meal: Breakfast. Tip: If staying the night, consider packing a cup of coffee in your carry-on.
Best-value killer meal according to the classic diner’s formula (quality divided by price): Saison. This is the name of the inexplicably elegant (just how do they do it, exactly?) establishment on the ground floor of a 19th-century silk maker’s preposterous folly (towers, turrets, there must have been a moat), otherwise known as L’Institut Paul Bocuse, in Ecully, four miles from Lyon. The kitchen is run by Alain Le Cossec, 1991 Meilleur Ouvrier de France, chef, and Zen master of culinary perfection. You don’t go there to be a big-hearted soul and support students making a mess of haute cuisine. No, a meal is not a good deed. (Besides, who would want to eat such a thing—and, what, pay for it too?) The secret: No student is allowed close enough to the food to damage it. (How do I know? I was a student.)
Best bouchon on a Saturday night: Café des Fédérations. Drunken, alarmingly uninhibited, sometimes just plain alarming. What is a bouchon? Go, here, for dinner. You’ll understand everything.
Best bouchon on a Sunday night: Le Bouchon des Filles, run by two sisters and former waitresses of Café des Fédérations. They describe their place as a bouchon run by women for people who think a normal bouchon is too heavy. Me? I describe it as good.
Best bouchon anytime, anywhere: Daniel et Denise—except it’s not a bouchon. It calls itself a bouchon, but it’s a restaurant— and a good one that just happens to serve all the classic Lyonnais dishes, but done so expertly that you don’t recognize they are classic Lyonnais dishes. The chef, who is neither a Daniel, nor a Denise, but a Joseph, is another MOF (by the way, Meilleur Ouvrier de France is French for “I’m kick-*ss, you’re not; get out of my way”). Chef Joseph became a MOF in 2006, the same year that he bought Daniel et Denise from both Daniel and Denise and quit his chef’s job at the once justly famous restaurant Lyon de Lyon, where (surprise, surprise) you could eat classic Lyonnais dishes done so expertly that only a Michelin inspector could recognize them. Since Chef’ Joseph’s departure, Lyon de Lyon has been, well, downgraded.
Best small restaurant you still haven’t heard of, even though it’s kick-ass, brilliant, and you probably won’t get a reservation: Au 14 Février, in Vieux Lyon. You don’t know it. You should.
Best old-fashioned quenelle: Café Comptoir Abel. Café Comptoir Abel is neither a café nor a comptoir, but a bouchon with an excess of atmosphere so precious that even Daniel Boulud has been caught on tape coveting the place and admitting to a scheme to steal it. (The heist, since abandoned, involved a task force of nocturnal engineers charged with loosening Abel from its foundations, packing it up into a crate, and shipping it to Manhattan, whereupon New Yorkers would go wild, having discovered that French food is actually Italian food but better.) Abel’s chef, the heroic but unheralded Alain Vigneron, is the only person still standing behind a stove who knows how to make a quenelle as it was done 76 years ago. A quenelle is less a recipe than a clever invention that, in Alain Vigneron’s preparation, renders a bony, virtually inedible, giant Rhône Valley lake fish into a creamy soufflé-like poem irritatingly evocative of sex. In fact, it’s not Alain Vigneron’s preparation—he “borrowed” it from Eugenie Brazier, a.k.a. Mère Brazier, the first woman chef to have gotten three Michelin stars in 1933, and a local legend. Today you still see scattered around town (on the wall of restaurants where she never worked, at the tabac, on a bus) not only her picture, but the picture: the now iconic image taken in 1935 by Blanc and Demilly—Théo Blanc and Antoine Demilly, the Lyonnais celebrity photo team (between the wars, all of haute Lyon passed before their lens)—that depicts a tough, rotund, no-nonsense woman in too-tight chef’s garb stirring a steamy, unexplained pot with such demonic intensity that you don’t want to know what’s inside. It is worth noting that the unheralded Alain Vigneron also makes the best salad Lyonnaise. I should know: I’ve eaten it 55 times.
Best postmodern quenelle: The exquisite confection lighter than the sea, marginally heavier than air, and with the texture of a cloud that was introduced to the world at 11:45 a.m. On April 3, 2010, at La Mère Brazier—the restaurant, not the person who died in 1977, by which time the place had been run for more than a decade by her son anyway, the parent and progeny having developed such a loathing for each other that she abandoned her kitchen and got out of town, opening another establishment in the countryside, thereby becoming the world’s first six-star chef. When the son died, his daughter, Jacqueline, took over: a gentle, good woman, who, unlike her father and grandmother, was well-balanced, sensible, and not a maniac, and so, in time, ended up selling the place to Mathieu Viannay, who reopened it the month my wife, the twins, and I arrived in Lyon. Viannay, a self-proclaimed neoclassicist, has since been reinventing most of Mère Brazier’s greatest recipes. Even so, it took him 18 months to come up with a postmodern quenelle (it’s that special). Viannay became a MOF in 2004 and wears a multicolored collar, like all the other MOFs, one that commands you to stand at attention and salute him when he passes, which is what his cooks do, waiting until Viannay can’t see them to stare openly and longingly at his MOF neckwear and admit, under their breath, that one day, they, too, will grow up to be a MOF. (Source? Me. I worked there.)
Best boulanger: Bob’s, on the Quai Saint-Vincent. Oldfashioned, prerevolutionary bread made in an old-fashioned, prerevolutionary way. Go there. Eat. You will understand why the French once put away three kilos of the stuff a day—and why a queen once said, “Let them eat Bob’s pain!” Best place to be at dawn on a Sunday morning: The Roman amphitheater. You have no idea.
Best place to be at midnight: the Amphitheater of the Three Gauls, ancient meeting and drinking place. Early Christians were skinned alive here. Sometimes, in the early hours, you can hear them.
Two best restos of the low- to mid-price range: Le Bistrot du Potager and Le Fleurie. Le Potager is run by Franck Delhoume from Marseille, and you will find Marseille in the food. Le Fleurie is run by Olivier Paget, who is not from Fleurie. He liked the name.
Best market: Quai Saint-Antoine on a Sunday morning. The famous Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse is a shopping mall of high-end products, incomprehensible to a non-Lyonnais unless you are also a social anthropologist studying the Lyonnais psyche as manifest in its irrational habits of food consumption, particularly “brands.” But for dinner? The Quai.
Best place to drink in Vieux Lyon: Georges V, run by the wine impresario Georges dos Santos (his store Antic Wine supplies the good restaurants). You will find Georges at the bar. Ask him a question: like, is the food of Lyon any good? Note the time. If three hours later you’re able to leave, the next bottle is on me.
Bill Buford is the author of Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as a Kitchen Slave, Line Cook , Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany. He lives in Lyon and is completing a book about learning how to be a French cook, provisionally titled Dirt. A film about his research, Fat Man in a White Hat, was recently broadcast on the BBC.
Cooking is a big part of the Bocuse d’Or, but there’s another art form related to the competition that is judged and awarded prizes. Each participating team is required to submit a promotional poster representing their country. And when it came to selecting an artist for the United States, Daniel Boulud knew right away who to ask: James Rosenquist.
James Rosenquist knows how to tell tales about contemporary life using compelling visual language. The objects in his paintings may at first glance appear random, but Rosenquist chooses each element carefully for personal meaning and connotation. It’s not unlike the way chefs use seemingly disparate ingredients to create a brand-new dish. “James has always been a friend to chefs because there is a natural artist-to-artist connection between a chef and a painter,” explains Daniel Boulud. Indeed, when Wolfgang Puck opened at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas 20 years ago, he could not afford to put Rosenquist’s art in his restaurant. Rosenquist, in a characteristically generous gesture, lent him a huge painting. Puck and Rosenquist have been friends ever since.
For the Bocuse d’Or USA print, Rosenquist conjured the image of a chef who must successfully keep several balls in the air—spices, food, and everything else—to come up with new and never-before executed dishes. “I saw the chef as a juggler, his wooden spoon the stick that keeps his three plates in the air,” explains Rosenquist. “The apple on top represents an obviously iconic American city—the ‘Big Apple.’ The flag was important to everyone involved, of course. And that was that—it’s so simple, yet very striking. One of the design challenges was that the poster had to be easy to see from a distance.”
The artistic connection between chef and painter extends to other mutual pursuits. Boulud and Rosenquist were introduced to each other at a Formula One race in Indianapolis through Jean Todt, the crew chief for Ferrari at the time and proud owner of several of the artist’s paintings. They met again soon after, when Todt threw a Boulud-catered party with his infamous $50 hamburgers at Rosenquist’s studio. The pair became fast friends.
Rosenquist likes to recall the time he received a call from Boulud while in the hospital recovering from double knee replacement surgery. “When I told him I had not eaten for four days, Daniel brought gourmet lunches and dinners not only for me but for the nurses who took care of me. I received the royal treatment for the rest of my stay. And I got better quicker—it’s amazing what good food does for rehabilitation!”
Boulud chalks up his friend’s speedy recovery to something else entirely. “I am especially impressed by James, because he lives by his convictions.” Needless to say, Boulud is delighted with the poster. “James’s work has a sense of timelessness that is very well represented here. You will be able to look at this poster 20 or 30 years from now and it will still carry the same emblematic feeling.”
James Rosenquist has produced a limited series of 50 signed lithographs, based on the poster design. Both the poster and the lithograph are available for sale at bocusedorusa.org or by contacting Monica Bhambhani at 646.519.7088. All proceeds will benefit Team USA , Chef James Kent and commis Tom Allan, as they prepare for the rigorous competition. Go Team USA !
Limited Edition: Lithograph and Event Poster. Poster includes names of participants.
TARTINE OF SQUAB “EN SALMIS” from café boulud
Adapted from Chef Daniel Boulud: Cooking in New York City
by Daniel Boulud and Peter Kaminsky, Published in 2002 by Assouline
1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 400°F.
2. Chop the back, wing, and neck bones into small pieces. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large sauté pan over high heat. Add the bones and legs and cook until golden brown. Deglaze and flambé with the cognac or brandy and cook until the liquid has evaporated. Add the chicken stock and lower the heat to a simmer; cook until the leg meat is tender, approximately 20 minutes. Remove the legs from the pan and let cool. Season the sauce with sherry vinegar, salt, and pepper and reduce the liquid by half. Strain the sauce through a fine mesh sieve. Once the legs are cool enough to handle, remove the leg meat from the bones and finely chop.
3. In a large sauté pan over high heat, warm the olive oil. Add the mushrooms and shallots and cook until all the liquid in the pan has evaporated. Once cool, finely chop the mushroom mixture and combine with the braised leg meat. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Season the squab breasts with salt and pepper. In a large ovenproof sauté pan, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Sear the breasts, skin side down, until golden brown. Flip the breasts over, place the pan in the oven, and roast for 4 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and place the squab on a wire rack to rest for a few minutes. Remove the breast meat from the bones and cut the breast into thin slices. Set aside and keep warm.
5. Prepare a very hot grill. Rub the sliced sourdough bread with the cut garlic. Grill the bread on both sides to obtain a good charred flavor. While the bread is grilling, in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, cook the foie gras for 3 minutes on each side. Drain the foie gras on layers of paper towels.
6. Divide the mushroom-leg mixture evenly among the toasted sliced bread. Place a piece of foie gras on top of the mushroom mixture and place the sliced breast meat on top of the foie gras. Keep warm.
Warm the sauce, if necessary. Place the assembled bread slices in the center of four warm dinner plates. Spoon the sauce over the squab meat and around the plate. At the Café, we serve this dish with a mâche salad tossed in truffle vinaigrette.
The Chef’s Garden is located three miles inland from Lake Erie, the shallowest of all the Great Lakes and subsequently the warmest. We’re in a microclimate with tremendous growing soil that was all lake bottom about 11,000 years ago. As a result, we have soil rich with not only sand that is good for drainage, but also great deposits from the lake. Here, we say that farming starts with farming the soil. We do that naturally, without chemicals, synthetics, or any genetic modification. For us, it is about working in harmony with nature instead of trying to outsmart it. The clean agriculture concepts that we implement here were commonplace 100 years ago, so we are really returning to the essentials of farming.
Of the 300 acres we farm, only about a third is used for production; another third sits fallow, accepting the energy and nutrients for the soil to rebuild itself; and the last third is used for growing very specific components for compost. We don’t believe in using animal manure, so that means everything we grow we use to put back into the soil. We essentially grow vegan vegetables.
But the picture wasn’t always so rosy. My dad started farming in the mid 1950s, and although successful for a number of years, he ended up losing everything and we had to start over with six acres of land and a dilapidated farmhouse. That was 27 years ago. Back then at the farmers’ markets, we began to notice chefs—either from or trained in Europe—searching for heirloom vegetable varieties grown for flavor rather than quantity, which was what American agriculture was about at the time. The concept really resonated with us, so my dad “ordered” me to get out there and talk to every chef I could to find out what they wanted us to grow.
Not long after that, we began working with Jean-Louis Palladin, who realized that in order for a small farm like us to survive, he would have to have enough other chefs supporting us. So he introduced us to Alain Ducasse and Daniel Boulud, who subsequently introduced us to Thomas Keller, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and Charlie Trotter. They were all willing to mentor us, and their vision has guided our vision ever since.
We named our farm The Chef’s Garden because we see the farm as an extension of these restaurant kitchens. With some 500 chef visits every year, there truly is a symbiotic relationship between chef and farmer. We learn from them, and what they do fuels us. We eventually built the Culinary Vegetable Institute, a facility where chefs can come for some R & R but, more important, can use the state-of-the-art kitchen and dining room for some R & D. We harvest what we grow and let the chefs play with it. In any given year, there are between 250 and 300 products in research and development. Some are chef requested, others we plant to explore and experiment with ourselves.
Ultimately, we are grateful to have a small place in the culinary industry. My dad always said that he wished us eternal dissatisfaction. Daniel or Thomas, or any great chef, is never satisfied—they are always back in the kitchen, ripping their plates apart, refining and reevaluating. That eternal dissatisfaction has to be at the core of everything that drives a great chef, and that drives us.
to support Bocuse d’Or USA in Yountville
I am delighted to have the opportunity to create a special weekend in Yountville for guests to enjoy, all in the name of supporting our cause—training the U.S. candidate for the Bocuse d’Or, the world championships of fine cuisine.
From September 3-5, I will host a series of events in Yountville incorporating all of our restaurants to raise funds for Bocuse d’Or USA Foundation. Guests will arrive on Friday to a dinner outdoors in our Culinary Garden, prepared by our chef at Bouchon, Philip Tessier. The garden is across the street from the French Laundry, and guests will get a firsthand tour and see the vegetables that will be used in the weekend’s dinners. Saturday, I will give guests a private demonstration at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, when our Bocuse d’Or team— James Kent and Tom Allen—and I will cook together. We’ll most likely be doing something derived from their competition plans—but not in an exact way, because we don’t want to give away what they’re doing. It’s all top secret! Saturday night, we’ll create a special dinner at the French Laundry. We’ll finish the weekend with a casual Sunday brunch at Ad Hoc, prepared by chef David Cruz. It will be a fun way for guests to cap off the summer and enjoy all that Yountville has to offer.
Purchase tickets at www.bocusedorusa.org/events.html.
ON BOCUSE D’OR IN AMERICA: SETTING LASTING EXPECTATIONS
Very simply, I got involved with Bocuse d’Or because Paul Bocuse asked me to. He’s a chef who for my entire career has been a role model, one of the greatest chefs in France, and here he is asking me to become involved. As a young chef, you are conditioned in the kitchen to say, “Oui, chef.” So when Paul Bocuse called me up for this, I said “Oui, chef.” It may be funny for people to hear that it happened liked that.
Daniel Boulud, Jerome Bocuse (Paul’s son), and I came together to form the board for the Bocuse d’Or USA in the spring of 2008. Daniel is the chairman, I am the president, and Jerome is the vice president. Our goal for the team is to win. Our second goal is to inspire culinary excellence, and support young chefs by offering them scholarships and stages to hone their potential for lifelong career success. Our Foundation is developing an infrastructure to participate in every cycle of the Bocuse d’Or competition in a meaningful way. We want to set standards and expectations that will last.
When you think about the American culinary scene, it is young. The American chefs of my generation were the first to have any kind of recognition. Before that, the best chefs in America always came from Europe. With my generation, we have elevated our restaurants to levels that are competitive with those around the world, and we are starting to think about a heritage and legacy of American culinary tradition. Competitions like the Bocuse d’Or are new to us. For me, Daniel, and Jerome, our job and our challenge is to take the expectations and high standards inherent in our restaurants— serving carefully crafted meals to guests—and translate them for the Bocuse d’Or.
James Kent, this year’s United States representative for the competition, along with Tom Allan, his commis, is very motivated. James and Tom, both sous chefs at Eleven Madison Park, are open and flexible to being directed by me, Daniel, and Jerome; their head coach, Mark Erickson (Vice President -Dean of Culinary Education, The Culinary Institute of America); and their assistant coaches and former Bocuse d’Or competitors, Timothy Hollingsworth (Executive Chef, The French Laundry) and Gavin Kaysen (Executive Chef, Café Boulud).
When James and Tom come out to the French Laundry to train in late summer, they’ll have two weeks to focus on their competition presentations without any distractions. They will work first with our gardeners. I want them to be inspired by the fresh vegetables we grow here, and to try some of the varieties they may want to use for the Bocuse d’Or. I’ll be here to give them direction, but I think the ingredients we have here will provide incredible motivation.
In 1987, France’s legendary Chef Paul Bocuse created the Bocuse d’Or World Cuisine Contest to broaden the public’s understanding of the extraordinary dedication, hard work, practice and precision required to execute the finest cuisine. Held every two years in Lyon, France, the Bocuse d’Or today is the world’s most rigorous culinary competition, a spectacle that combines the intensity and pressure of crafting three-star cuisine with the raucous atmosphere of soccer’s World Cup.
Twenty-four countries are selected to compete, and each country’s team is comprised of one chef and one commis assistant. The teams are required to prepare two protein platters—one of seafood, one of meat—accompanied by three elaborate garnishes, cooked in just five and a half hours in front of a thunderous live audience and a jury of top chefs from around the world.
For the last 20 years, the United States has participated at the Bocuse d’Or World Cuisine Contest but has never reached the winners’ podium. In 2008, Paul Bocuse asked two of the most respected chefs in America, Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller, to develop a structure to provide more support for the United States team, particularly for the training period leading up to the global competition. Together with U.S.-based Jerome Bocuse, son of Paul Bocuse, the three formed the Board of Directors of what is now the Bocuse d’Or USA Foundation.
The Foundation is a non-profit (501(c)(3)) culinary organization devoted to inspiring culinary excellence within young professionals and preserving the traditions and quality of classic cuisine in America. The Foundation helps support the country’s most promising young professionals who are interested in competing and representing the U.S. in the prestigious Bocuse d’Or competition and is equally dedicated to making the careers of serious young chefs more meaningful and successful by offering them educational scholarships, internships and access to a Culinary Council of established professionals.
The Bocuse d’Or USA Foundation’s fundraising program includes destination weekends of special events in the hometowns of each of the Foundation’s Board members. Coming up next: Thomas Keller’s Labor Day Weekend in Yountville, California